Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday issued a bench warrant for the arrest of the managing director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, Fidet Okhiria for allegedly disobeying a valid court order.
Justice Hassan ordered the arrest of Okhiria, after the plaintiff’s lawyer, Akeem Aponmode asked the court for an order directing the police to arrest the corporation’s managing director and bring him to court to come and show cause why he should not be committed to prison for the disobedience of court order.
Aponmode on behalf of his clients led by Alhaji Moruf .K. Salami, Mrs Uyo Nwajei and Alhaja Aisha Aminu Gwadabe and others had filed the application against the NRC and four others over attempts to forcefully and illegally acquire their properties without recourse to due process.
Justice Hassan had on August 3, 2018 granted an order directing parties to maintain status quo ante pending the determination of the motion on notice.
The plaintiffs led by Alhaji Moruf .K. Salami, Mrs Uyo Nwajei and Alhaja Aisha Aminu Gwadabe had earlier filed an ex-parte application before the court against the NRC, the Federal Ministry of Works, Power and Housing, China Construction and Electrical Investment Company Limited, Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General of the Federation seeking among others, an order restraining the defendants from demolishing, damaging or tampering with properties lying and situated at Block 1 House 1 , Block B House 1 and Block E House 2, Adisa Housing Estate 308B, Murtala Mohammed Way , Yaba, Lagos pending the determination of the motion on notice filed before the court.
The plaintiffs are also asking the court to restrain the defendants from disturbing the peaceful possession of the respective plaintiffs or anyone living with them or their respective properties pending the determination of the motion on notice filed in the suit.
However, on the last adjourned day, plaintiffs’ counsel told Justice Hassan that despite the pendency of the suit and the order of the court directing status quo be maintained pending determination of the suit, and service of same on the defendants, the defendants continued to take actions inimical to the interest of the plaintiffs.
Aponmode added that when the plaintiffs noticed that the defendants have brought in equipment to demolish their properties, the plaintiffs rushed to the court with Form 48 (notice of disobedience to court order) and same was served on respondents.
“Despite the service of Form 48 on respondents they still went ahead and demolish the properties thereby turning the plaintiffs to homeless people”, Aponmode said.
The plaintiffs’ counsel added that this flagrant disobedience to court order necessitated the filing of Form 49, committal proceedings against the defendants.
At the resumption of hearing yesterday, Aponmode told Justice Hassan that the matter was adjourned on Friday till today to move his application for the committal of the contemptnor.
He however said that for the contemptnor not to claim ignorance of today’s proceedings, he took it upon himself to write them notifying them of the proceedings and proof of service filed in court to fulfill all righteousness.
He said the managing director is aware of the proceedings and that all conditions for the activation of committal proceedings has been met. “The managing director of NRC chose to deliberately disobey the order of the court,” he added.
Aponmode said that the country is governed by the constitution, adding that impunity cannot be allowed to be the order of the day.
The legal practitioner however, said that since the matter is quasi criminal in nature and that somebody’s head can’t be shaved in his absence, he urged the court to grant an order that the police should arrest the Managing Director of the first defendant and bring him to court so that he can come and show cause why he should not be committed to prison for disobeying the order of the court.
Justice Hassan in his ruling said, “ I have listened to the plaintiffs’ counsel and from the court’s records the defendants were served with the motion on notice, order of the court directing status quo form 48 and 49, yet the first defendant is not in court with no reason given.
“ I have no reason than to accede to plaintiffs’ counsel request. I hereby issue a bench warrant for the arrest of the first defendant’s managing director.”